Sati and Sukha, using meditative awareness in asana practice
The term “anga” (limbs) used to describe the eight components of the classical yoga system, as well as the eight anga (folds) of the Budhiist path, suggest that all of theses support one another. So how does meditative awareness support postural practice?
The first foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of the body (which, incidentally, includes mindfulness of breathing). Since we can only move what we feel, learning, through mindfulness practice, to feel our body more precisely and accurately will enable us to move it more skillfully. In the Anapanasati Sutta (the discourse on mindfulness of breathing), the Buddha tells us: “He trains himself, I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body. He trains himself, I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body“. By gradually sharpening this sensitivity through the practice of mindful breathing, we learn the subtle relationship between the breath and the body and how they affect one another. This is an important stepping stone in the practice of asana.
In the next mindfulness practice of the same discourse , we are invited to “breath in, relaxing the whole body, breath out, relaxing the whole body”. Again, a very useful way to use the breath in asana practice, which can be learned in meditation practice.
Later on, in the section of the Anapanasati sutta dealing with “vedana” (feeling tones), Master Gautama tells us to breath in and out sensitive to “Sukha”.
Sukha is a Sanskrit and Pali word that is often translated as happiness, pleasure or bliss in this context. In Buddhism, Sukha is also one of the absorption (jhana) factors for the first three material absorptions, and in this context, Sukha has a strong physical component. This type of sukha,which is perfected in concentration practice can be used in asana practice.
The word Sukha appears in relation to asanas in Patanjali’s yoga suttra (2.46), where it is translated variously as ease, comfort or relaxation. In asana practice, Patanjali tells us, one has to find the balance between “Sukha” and “Stirah” (strength, steadiness, firmness). This subtle balance between effort and relaxation, between strength and softness is what asana practice is about.
Used in this way, meditation practice helps to sharpen body and breath awareness and to use the breath to find ease and relaxation. Two importants skills that are easily transferable to asana practice.